At the Guernsey Literary Festival
I’ve wanted to visit the smaller Channel Islands for years, which is why I entered a poem in the Guernsey Literary Festival competition this year. I reckoned that if it got anywhere, that would provide a good reason to catch the ferry and come. So here I am! The prize-winners’ reading was at Queen Elizabeth College at the top of the town, with a good variety of poems. But the real charm and excitement of this particular competition is that the successful poems will be displayed on the islands’ buses for the coming year. Because of this, the poems had to be short and succinct enough to fit on a poster inside a bus and still be large enough to be easily read.
My poem, ‘On the way to somewhere else’, reflects on the feeling on a busy motorway that with so many vehicles heading in both directions, there is something to be said for all staying where we were. The poem was written while we were settling down for the night in our camper van in Cheshire last year.
It was good to spend some time with two poet friends from the Devon Company of Poets who were also among the prize-winners: Chris Considine and Denise McSheehy. And the over-all winner of the competition was another old friend, Pat Winslow, her poem, Atlantic, about swimming in the waters of the Scilly Islands. With Mediterranean weather and miles of beautiful coast path, it was natural that we should spend the day out hiking – and return with an impressive tan, in time for the reading by Andrew Motion, who read his poetry, talked about his life and writing and told us about his three sequels to Treasure Island – one of which has been published, another is coming out in October and a third was begun the previous day. This was followed by the festival party at the Duke of Richmond Hotel, with canapés and exotic drinks flowing as freely as the currents swirling round the rocky coast.
As usual with such festivals, there was a tremendous amount going on, and it was not possible to get to more than a fraction of the events. One very interesting venue was Cornet Castle, built on a rock in the harbour. On Friday evening this labyrinthine series of buildings was taken over by the festival, with bands, readings, free entry to the museums, food and a host of activities for children. Consequently the whole place was buzzing, and the whole population of Guernsey was aware of the Literary Festival.
Mario Petrucci was giving a reading on the battlements, but unfortunately I had been given the wrong time for this and turned up five minutes before the end. Mario, with his normal courtesy and generosity therefore insisted on dismissing his audience at the end of his reading, then sitting me down and giving me my own private reading. Sitting in the warm evening sun, high above the sea and surrounded by ancient battlements, and being read to by this wonderful poet was a magical experience.
It’s not as easy doing blogs on an iPad as it is on my computer – but I think I’ve managed.